David Cowan, Managing Partner, Bessemer Venture Partners on Critical Thinking and More
Susan Bratton

Episode 5 - David Cowan, Managing Partner, Bessemer Venture Partners on Critical Thinking and More

David Cowan, Venture Capitalist, "Born-Again-Atheist" and Critical Thinker is one of the most intelligent guests to appear on DishyMix. Listen to this episode to remind yourself what it's like to rap with a rational conversationalist. Host Susan Bratton takes you on an auditory ride covering subjects as diverse as "man purses" and Kurt Vonnegut to raising children without God and why people believe weird things. David gives us his opinion on donuts and Richard Dawkins and tells us what it's like to be on Forbes' "Midas List" of Tech's Best Venture Investors. From the "Sirens of Titan" and how complex systems can have emergent properties to succumbing (or not) to your own biology, David delivers a smorgasbord of food for thought.



David Cowan, Managing Partner, Bessemer Venture Partners on Critical Thinking and More

Announcer:  This program is brought to you by personallifemedia.com.


Susan Bratton:  Hi and welcome to Dishy Mix.  This is your host Susan Bratton and thanks so much for tuning in to the show today.  On this episode we have David Cowan.  He's the managing partner of Bessemer Ventures.

I met David standing in a cattle line at the TED Conference and was just unbelievably impressed with his brainpower and the magnitude of his personality.  And that's what it takes to get on to Dishy Mix for an interview.  So you are going to get to meet David today.

He's a born-again atheist.  We are going to talk a little bit about his love of Kurt Vonnegut.  He's a grammar nerd and we have that in common.  We are going to talk about timebanks.org.  We’re going to talk about doughnuts and maybe we'll get Bart Simpson on the line - or Homer. It's Homer who loves doughnuts.  We're going to talk about book collecting and critical thinking.  We're going to talk about the mansac and his grapefruit addiction.

David Cowan:  If you would like to buy the sweater that Gabrielle Solis was wearing on Desperate Housewives –

Susan Bratton:  Right.

David Cowan:  Or if you would maybe like to buy the furniture in her home –

Susan Bratton:  Yeah.

David Cowan:  Or if you would like to maybe test drive her car or if you would like to get last season's DVD set for Desperate Housewives, then when you go to the Desperate Housewives site you'll see that there is an area for shopping for merchandise related to the show.  So Delivery Agent keeps track of everything that appears on the screen. 

David Cowan: But as I thought about it I realized that there is a very important reason why I don't and that is I think that it's really difficult to raise a critical thinking child when at the same time we are teaching them to value faith.  I mean faith is nothing more than belief in that for which there is no material evidence.

David Cowan:  We've crafted what we call advisements.  They're not commandments.  They are advisements and you can find them at advisements.blogspot.com.  And one thing that is important about them, because they don't have the authority of God behind them with a threat of heaven and hell as reward and punishment, they have to be compelling.

Susan Bratton:  Proclamation number two - doughnuts.

David Cowan:  Chocolate iced with sprinkles are the best doughnuts.

Susan Bratton:  Is it a merse or a mansac?

David Cowan:  It is not a merse.  It is not a mansac.  It is a purse.  That is what I carry.  There is no getting around it.


Susan Bratton:  Welcome David.

David Cowan:  Hi Susan.

Susan Bratton:  Hey, it's great to have you.  Thank you so much for giving us the time today.

David Cowan:  Of course.  Of course.  It's a lot more comfortable today than it was when we were pressed up against each other.

Susan Bratton:  Exactly.

David Cowan:  Over at TED.

Susan Bratton:  It was our sweaty first meeting, right? [Laughs]  Well let’s see, for our listeners who might not know you David, you are the managing partner at Bessemer Ventures and you have been there since ‘92, so about 15 years. 

You have made 45 early-stage investments, including 19 that have gone public and 17 that have been acquired by public companies.  That's put you in the Forbes Midas List.  The Forbes Midas List ranks you among the world's top 10 venture investors and actually you are number six.  You're beating out people like, God, Michael Moritz for example from Sequoia or Frank Quattrone.  That's an amazing attribute.  And I want to know how getting on the Forbes Midas List changed your life.

David Cowan:  Oh boy.  I think I'm afraid to say it didn't really change my life and as an investor there are some years where I have good years and some years where I have bad years.  I think you are referring to one of the particularly good years, you know?  And there certainly are other years when things aren't always going so well.  And in fact some of the other investors that you have mentioned have since gone on to really be involved in some great startups that I wish I were a part of, but wasn't.

So I think if nothing else it's just a reminder that there is a lot of luck in venture capital.  There is a lot of luck in a lot of aspects of life but certainly in venture capital.  I try not to confuse luck for anything else.

Susan Bratton:  So you must have more than luck.  It can't all be luck.  You are an unbelievably smart guy and you have made more than your fair share of great guesses.  You must have something that happens to you - a little tickle in your stomach or a level of excitement or something that tells you when you see a deal that it might be the one.  What is that?

David Cowan:  Well, I guess I do get that tickle and I get it a lot.  But I'd say the real secret of my success, other than just being lucky, is having really smart partners who stop me from pursuing my gut feel every time I get that little tickle.

I got into the business because I really love computer science and technology.  I came to it with a passion for the products of the industry, not necessarily the business side of it.  I just get a kick out of almost every business plan I get to hear about.  It's just very exciting to meet with entrepreneurs every day and hear about their plans.  And I get excited about almost all of them.

Susan Bratton:  How much time do you spend on a weekly basis hearing pitches and meeting with entrepreneurs?

David Cowan:  I probably spend about an hour or two every day, which is less than I would like to.  But over the years I have accumulated responsibilities to my partners and also to the companies I have invested in.  So I wish I could spend even more but I do get to spend an hour to two a day listing to new ideas.

Susan Bratton:  So you are currently on the board of Netli, NextMedium, Nominum, Vimo, Flock, Determina and Lifelock.  Those are some great names by the way.  I love them.

I know NextMedium.  I know Hamet Watt and you know the listeners of Dishy Mix are primarily people in the Internet Web 2.0 medium, marketing, advertising, publishing - kind of that world.  Of all the boards that you sit on, which ones do you think are the most interesting that you could talk about with regard to my audience?

David Cowan:  Well, certainly NextMedium is a promising company.  It's still very early in the development of brand integration as an advertising medium.  It has happened quite a bit opportunistically at a high level between advertisers and media properties as you can see with what Burger King did with The Apprentice or what BMW did with James Bond films.  And it also happens every single day at a very low level in the way that companies get their products onto the sets of television and movies so that the production companies don't have to go out and buy those products.

But what NextMedium sees is an opportunity to really take all of those opportunities where products appear on the TV screen or in a movie and create an advertising opportunity out of that, what they call a brand integration.  And it's still very early in the development of that industry but I think that everyone both on the advertiser side and on the production side is excited about it because they see that the 30 second spot commercial is not as viable as it used to be in a new world where technology allows content to be consumed in a nonlinear way.

Susan Bratton:  Absolutely.  When you can give your product to someone and get it in a movie, what's better than that, right?  And so what NextMedium does is essentially track that and track the number of impressions.

I have heard even that as an example, say that someone is holding a can of Coke in a movie, if the label is facing out it’s worth more than if you can just kind of tell it is a can of Coke and the NextMedium actually tracks the impression levels and gives a quality grading, I guess.  I'm sure you have a real word for that but a quality grading to the actual integration.  Is that true?

David Cowan:  Right.  In order for any advertising medium to really take off and be scalable, you have to be able to measure the effectiveness of the advertisement.  And so that really requires a lot of metadata about the campaign.  And that's what NextMedium is bringing.

NextMedium is one of many companies that we have invested in behind this convergence of the Internet and video entertainment.

Susan Bratton:  What other ones?

David Cowan:  Well, another company is GOTV, which is the largest producer of mobile video.  So they create news shows and hip hop shows and all different kinds of entertainment for consumption on cell phones.  We are investors in Rever, which is an advertising video network.  We are investors in Delivery Agent.  Delivery Agent runs SeenON!.com and also drives the e-commerce for most of the networks and television that you see.

Susan Bratton:  I don't understand what that is.  What does Delivery Agent do?  I have heard of them a couple of times.  I think I have even had them speak at Ad Tech but I can't remember.  I don't quite understand it.

David Cowan:  So if you would like to buy the sweater that Gabrielle Solis was wearing on Desperate Housewives –

Susan Bratton:  Right.

David Cowan:  Or if you would like to maybe buy the furniture in her home –

Susan Bratton:  Yeah.

David Cowan:  Or if you would like to test drive her car or if you would like to get last season's DVD set for Desperate Housewives, then when you go to the Desperate Housewives site you'll see that there is an area for shopping for merchandise related to the show.  So Delivery Agent keeps track of everything that appears on the screen.  They have got I would guess at this point that they have maybe 90% of prime time television catalogued if you will.

So you can really go and shop everything that you see on television or in the movies.

Susan Bratton:  So the sticking point is the consumer behavior, creating the consumer behavior to let them know that that's actually available to them, right?

David Cowan:  That’s right.  And so we do that primarily on the websites of the networks who run those shows or on the official sites of the shows themselves.

Susan Bratton:  OK.

David Cowan:  But increasingly people are consuming the video on their computers or on computing platforms.  And when that happens we can more easily integrate the shopping experience into the viewing of the program.

Susan Bratton:  So Delivery Agent is going to do a deal with Juiced?

David Cowan:  We may.  We may.  We are certainly looking forward to the migration of video to computing platforms because it will make it even easier to make that connection between viewing the program and buying the merchandise.

Susan Bratton:  Exactly.  And then just tie it all into eBay too while you're at it.  Well lets see, I want to switch gears a little bit because the day that I met you we were talking about God and atheism.  Now you are married apparently to a French girl and I want to come back and hear about what it's like to be married to a beautiful Frenchwoman.  And you are a father of three.

And you conducted a class at the TED event about raising children without God.  Was that the title of it?

David Cowan:  That’s it.

Susan Bratton:  So why would you want to do that?  Tell us the story.

David Cowan:  As fatherhood loomed for me and I was thinking about what was important for me to teach our children, I came to think that the answer to that question was too important to simply go with the default answers of I will teach my children whatever I was taught or whatever other people teach their children.

I think that I really wanted to think about how to prepare them for the world so that they would be healthy, happy and smart, just like we all want for our children.  As I did that, it really forced me to think critically about values and about how I think about the world.

As I did that, I felt a responsibility to really try to be honest with my children and first that required me to be honest with myself.  So as I did that, I had to struggle with some very uncomfortable realizations, which are that I don't believe in God.  And this really started with university, when I learned about the history of different religions and I saw how all the religions are one borrowed from another and the mythology of one religion is rooted in the mythology of another.  I realized that the religion that I come from was just one tribe among many and our mythology was some derivation of the mythology of the Phoenicians and the Sumerians and the Mesopotamians before us.

And that really brought home for me the importance of opening my mind to the idea that maybe it is just mythology.  And I started to ask myself why would I want to pass that on to my children.  There are some reasons why people do want to pass that on to their children. But as I thought about it I realized that there is a very important reason why I don't and that is I think that it's really difficult to raise a critical thinking child when at the same time we are teaching them to value faith.  I mean faith is nothing more than belief in that for which there is no material evidence.  At least that's what it says in the dictionary.

I want to teach my children to form beliefs based upon evidence.  I think that's what is driving a lot of progress in our world.  We are all the beneficiaries of science and medicine and technology.  I think there are a lot of problems in the world and many of them stem from the faith that people put in ideas for which there is no evidence at all.

So I found that it's been great raising my children in a way that I think is honest.  They really are critical thinkers and it helps them in all kinds of ways.  So that's something that I wanted to share with the people at the conference.

I was really surprised by the way that it was much better attended than I would have expected.

Susan Bratton:  Yeah, I couldn't even get in.

David Cowan:  And I'm still in touch with people who have contacted me afterwards expressing gratitude for challenging them.  And I did not experience what I expected would be a very negative backlash.  And I think I found that in fact there are probably a lot more atheists in the world than people realize.  People just don't like to talk about it because there is somewhat of a stigma associated with it.

Susan Bratton:  Right, exactly.  The word atheist is a very charged word.  But if you were to discuss it in terms of theology and critical thinking and an embracing of religious concepts and comparative religion, those seem to be much better terminology for having a discussion around the belief of God and the way we raise our children.

We are going to have to take a short break and when we come back we'll go to talk about a whole bunch of other things.  This is your host Susan Bratton.  And you are listening to David Cowan, the managing partner of Bessemer Ventures.  We are going to thank our sponsors and we'll be right back.




Susan Bratton:  We’re back.  This is your host Susan Bratton.  I have David Cowan, the managing partner of Bessemer Ventures.  I met David at TED and at the break we were talking about raising our children without God and what that means.

I want to pick that up a little bit more David, because I think it is an important discussion.  You have a lot of resources for people to consider on your blog.  You know, I didn't write down the blog URL for that one but I know you can get to it through whohastimeforthis.blogspot.com, which is a great, great name for a blog by the way.

One of the things that you mentioned in that was Richard Dawkins’ letter to his 10-year-old daughter.  Can you tell our listeners about that because I think that might be something that would get people to actually click through and read your blog about being a born-again atheist?

David Cowan:  So Richard Dawkins says it much more eloquently than I can.  But he writes a letter to his 10-year-old daughter and really tries to explain to her the benefits of why she really wants to think critically about the world.  I would encourage you to look at the letter.  It's easy to find on the Web and it's also easy to find on the Richard Dawkins website, which is actually a great resource for all things atheist if you will.

Dawkins is really - he's actually I think launched quite a wave of critical thinking in the world.  His book “The God Delusion” has been on the bestseller charts and it was followed by Sam Harris’ “The End of Faith” and Chris Hitchens’ book “God is not Great”, which have also become best sellers.

And so thanks to Richard Dawkins, who is an Oxford professor and I'm honored to say now a friend of mine, but thanks to him and to Mr. Hitchens and Mr. Harris and other authors like Michael Shermer the questions that he has raised have really become part of mainstream dialogue.  I think at a time when, at least in the United States, people have become very disillusioned with a government that has acted on faith, a government that has taken very, very important steps without having material evidence for its actions.
I think people are really coming to question whether faith and gut feel are the basis upon which we should live our lives.

Susan Bratton:  I want to throw another book into that book list, since we're on it.  I like Daniel Dennett's book “Breaking the Spell” because he is a Darwinian theorist and he really calls for just having us carefully study the benefits of religion in our culture so that we can understand the value that it brings and the things that it doesn't do well enough.

David Cowan:  So I've read parts of “Breaking the Spell”.  I certainly should have mentioned it because it is also an important book in that genre.  And I do think that there are very positive things that religion can bring into a household.  But there are alternatives.  We don't need religion to teach ethics to our children.

In fact, I think within the religions to which I have been exposed, if you really want to teach your children to be good, you have to pick and choose from among the precepts within those religions.  And why pick and choose when instead we can just think for ourselves and develop our own basic ideas around some simple concepts like treat other people the way you would like to be treated yourself and, you know take care of yourself?

Susan Bratton:  It doesn't need to be a commandment to be information.

David Cowan:  Exactly.  And so there is a community of people with whom I am involved where in fact we've crafted what we call advisements.  They're not commandments.  They are advisements and you can find them at advisements.blogspot.com.  And one thing that is important about them, because they don't have the authority of God behind them with a threat of heaven and hell as reward and punishment, they have to be compelling.  And when you read an advisement, if it's going to work it has to be something that you would think was actually, there are good reasons why you would want to live that way.

And they have to be principles that would work for everybody.  They are universal.  For example, you know it's not universal to think of yourself as the chosen people.  Well what about the other people?

Susan Bratton:  Right.

David Cowan:  How should they think of themselves?  So I think that Dennett brings up some good points about the value of religion.  I think there are ways that we can bring culture and ethics and community into our homes without the baggage of theology.

Susan Bratton:  I want to say one last thing on that.  I wonder, and I doubt you have the answer because this is really just a theoretical question but I wonder if we added up Dawkins and Sherman, Harris and Hitchens and all of those books and the number of units sold versus “A Purpose Driven Life”, I wonder what the ratio would be.  You don't have any idea do you?

David Cowan:  Oh, it's just a drop in the ocean.

Susan Bratton:  Yeah, right.  Millions and millions of copies of “A Purpose Driven Life” and probably tens of thousands of the other list.  Go ahead.

David Cowan:  But you know one thing about scientific viewpoint is that it sticks because once people think about the commonsense approach of the scientific method, it's hard to go back.

Susan Bratton:  Yes.

David Cowan:  So progress may be slow, but it's progress.

Susan Bratton:  Great.  That's a very uplifting perspective, thank you.  I want to just finish off on this whole concept of teaching our children critical thinking.  You reference a book on advisements.blogspot.com “Why People Believe Weird Things”.  I haven't read that.  Can you just give us the two-sentence highlight of what that book is about?  Is that a good one?

David Cowan:  Oh, that's terrific and it really got me started on my journey to be a critical thinker.  What it talks about is how is it that people come to believe things that we might consider to be obviously not true.

Now we all have different ideas of what that is.  We know there are people out there who - many, many people who pay psychics and astrologers and who buy medical remedies that are obviously scams, who believe that they have been abducted by UFOs and who, I believe subscribe to religious mythologies that are so far-fetched that it's incredible to me that those beliefs are as strong as they are.

How is it that people are so often wrong?  And one thing that Mr. Shermer does in this book, is he really talks about how our brains evolved to be pattern recognizers, how our brains evolved in a way that worked really, really well when we were evolving and we were living in the wild.  However, those pattern recognition approaches don't serve us quite as well when we are trying to process really complex observations about the universe around us and how it really leads us to make mistakes because of things like selective memory bias or not recognizing randomness. 

You know, that's a concept that's been really eloquently illustrated in the book “Fooled by Randomness”.  So he talks about all of these little mistakes that we can make along the way.  And it's a great read because not only does it make you understand why other people may subscribe to problematic ideas but it also gives you some warning signs as to when it is that you in fact are subscribing to something that is not really a logical conclusion from the evidence.

Susan Bratton:  When you are succumbing to your own biology, huh?

David Cowan:  Exactly right.  And for me that was a first step for me to really think about how am I making the mistakes that he talks about in that book.

Susan Bratton:  I like it.  That's great.  Self-recognition is the first step.  Let's play a game.

David Cowan:  Absolutely.  I love games.

Susan Bratton:  OK.  Ah!  Good.  All right.  This one is called ‘Proclamation’.  And I just made it up.  I'm going to say a word or a couple of words.  You're going to make a proclamation.  Are you ready?

David Cowan:  I think so.

Susan Bratton:  This is tortuous, isn't it?  I totally - I didn't –

David Cowan:  Yes, I'm ready.  That's my first thought process.

Susan Bratton:  I love it.  All right.  Proclamation.  Are you ready?  Grammar.

David Cowan:  Grammar has been greatly neglected, which is probably not a bad thing.

Susan Bratton:  You can give us a little color on a proclamation.  Go ahead.

David Cowan:  The English language is obviously complicated and it's also evolving.  There are rules that underline the construction of our sentences.  Unfortunately those rules do change over time.  So it is quite normal that we would not be able to always follow all of the rules that are currently considered authoritative as we speak.  People make grammatical mistakes.  That's perfectly normal.

I think you mentioned grammar because I wrote a blog post once complaining about grammar.  I wasn't complaining that people don't speak grammatically because I don't think that’s such a crime and in fact it's even hard to say what is grammatical.  But I do have to say that I have a pet peeve.

Susan Bratton:  I knew it.  Here it is.  All right.

David Cowan:  With hypercorrection.

Susan Bratton:  OK.  What's that mean? 

David Cowan:  Hypercorrection is the practice of making a big display of correct grammar when in fact what is actually speaking incorrectly.

Susan Bratton:  With whom will we go to the movies?

David Cowan:  Well, with whom will we go to the movies is actually correct.

Susan Bratton:  But it's a display.

David Cowan:  It's a display.

Susan Bratton:  Yeah.

David Cowan:  So I don't mind displays of correct grammar.

Susan Bratton:  OK.

David Cowan:  I also don't mind incorrect grammar.  It's the displays of incorrect grammar.  It's when people are trying to make a big point about being grammatically correct.

Susan Bratton:  Yeah.

David Cowan:  When they're not.

Susan Bratton:  I got it.

David Cowan:  So an example might be, “Let’s call whomever is going to the movies with us.”

Susan Bratton:  Aha.  Perfect.  Thank you.

David Cowan:  Well, actually it is grammatically correct to say, “Let’s call whoever is going to the movies with us.”

Susan Bratton:  Yeah.

David Cowan:  Or another one is, “When can you come by to meet with Mary and I?”

Susan Bratton:  Yeah, instead of me.  Right.

David Cowan:  And that's actually probably the most common.

Susan Bratton:  Very common.

David Cowan:  Type of hypercorrection, is people use ‘I’ instead of ‘me’.

Susan Bratton:  Yeah.

David Cowan:  People seem to think that any time two people are mentioned in a sentence, that if the second one –

Susan Bratton:  Yourself.

David Cowan:  Is me that it should somehow be changed to I.

Susan Bratton:  Exactly.  Hey I'm going to switch now for proclamation number two.  We're taking you from highbrow to lowbrow.  Proclamation number two - doughnuts.

David Cowan:  Chocolate iced with sprinkles are the best doughnuts.

Susan Bratton:  Now do you have somewhat of a doughnut - are you a doughnut connoisseur?  You have spoken about doughnuts before.

David Cowan:  I am not.  I am a sucker for a good doughnut.  They remind me of my childhood, the best times and they are yummy and scrumptious.  And the times that I really enjoy doughnuts are when I am in a meeting at a business and business is going well and I can just sit back and enjoy the doughnuts.

Susan Bratton:  I love a good doughnut too and I don't think there are enough donut shops in the world.  My favorite is a plain cake and I love the Asian doughnut shops we have in California because they really make beautiful doughnuts.  I hate to Krispy Kreme fako-fakos and I love the real, live Korean or Vietnamese doughnut shops.  How about you?

David Cowan:  Please stop.

Susan Bratton:  Why?  Because you need a doughnut?

David Cowan:  Yeah, because you're getting me hungry.

Susan Bratton:  You’re getting me so excited!  OK.  Last proclamation - is it a merse or a mansac?

David Cowan:  It is not a merse.  It is not a mansac.  It is a purse.  That is what I carry.  There is no getting around it.  Now it doesn't have flowers on it.  It is an old camera case.  But I find it's the most practical way to carry all my things with me and not lose them and leave them behind.

Susan Bratton:  I love a man who carries a purse.  My husband is a purse-carrying stud and I buy him multiple purses over the years because he has different fashion looks and all kinds of things.  The latest one we have I think is a Timbuktu.  Timbuktu now has really nice purses - you call a purse.  We call it a mansac or a merse when we are being silly but I think men should really consider this.  With the keys and the Blackberries, there is a lot of stuff to carry - sunglasses, there is a lot of stuff to carry around now, don't you think?

David Cowan:  Absolutely.

Susan Bratton:  Yeah.

David Cowan:  And also the lipstick and the compact too.

Susan Bratton:  Well, I actually think it's unbelievably sexy when a man carries a whatever you want to call it.  I call it a merse.  Because that's a confident man, right there.  That is the sure sign of a man who is fully into his masculinity.  And of course what's better than a masculine man, right?

David Cowan:  Well that says to me maybe I should ditch the camera case and really start going for the more fashionable look, the one that matches my shoes.

Susan Bratton:  Maybe.  Maybe.  You don't have to go that far.  It's OK to be unmatched.  That's still masculine.  I want to just close off on two things.  The first one is Kurt Vonnegut, who recently passed away.  You are a Vonnegut lover.  I want you to explain to people who maybe haven't read Vonnegut.

I grew up.  I read all of his books in the 70s but then kind of lost him over the last years of his life.  Remind people about the beauty of his work.

David Cowan:  Let me reference one book – “The Sirens of Titan”. 

Susan Bratton:  I never read that one.

David Cowan:  So in this one book, it's a fun story but lots of interesting characters.  At one point in the book it becomes clear that the entire history of our species was really just a step in someone's plan to deliver a replacement part to a space traveler who was deserted on Titan, a moon of Saturn.

And for me it was just a wonderful way to think about how complex systems can produce these and can have these emergent properties.  In this case, we need to get a replacement part to this mood on Titan.  And so let's somehow seed some life on this rock that is the third planet from the sun and at some point, as intelligent life develops, they will naturally reach out and explore the planets around them and bring us this part that we need.

Susan Bratton:  Nice.

David Cowan:  Because I think that a lot of the beauty that we get in science and economics and socio-political theory and a lot of other disciplines, a lot of that beauty comes from the emergent properties that we see from simple complex systems.

Susan Bratton:  Well, it's like bio-mimicry, which is really gaining such a foothold now.  It's very similar, right?

David Cowan:  I'm not familiar with that.

Susan Bratton:  Oh, it's the idea that you would create products or salt problems by looking into nature and using the beauty and the functionality inherent in biology and nature to think up new products as an example.

David Cowan:  Oh.  OK.

Susan Bratton:  Yeah. Timebanks.org.  We are going to close with that.  I thought that was an interesting concept.  I had never heard about it until I read one of your blogs and so I was hoping you could just share that with our listeners as a really kind of a nice way.  I always like to end with an aspirational upnote on my show so of course everyone comes back next week.

So maybe we could talk about Timebanks.org.

David Cowan:  Of course.  Timebanks.org is an organization that helps communities develop time banks.  And time banks are a center, if you will, a community where people can help each other.  The idea is that there is someone in the community who perhaps needs some medicine from the drugstore and I'm going to go deliver it.  I'm going to go bring that person her medicine or I'm going to go and help somebody with some shopping or am going to go and help somebody move.

And as you contribute to the time bank, you develop deposits.  And the community then - and you can withdraw all those deposits from the community.  And it's a fun way to develop this community where people help each other.  I just think it's such a better way for people to come together than to convene on Sunday and sing songs to mythological deities.

A lot of people think, “Well, it's really important to go to church or synagogue because we have this community and people can help each other.”  And I think Timebanks.org presents a way for us to help each other without having also to engage in the religious parts as well.  And I know that it has been very successful.  There are a lot of people who have been helped and to have gotten a lot out of contributing to Time banks and it's something that is pretty easy for people to start with in their communities if they are interested to.

Susan Bratton:  It's a great way to reconnect with community, especially if church is not your thing but you want to give back, or you need help and you don't know where to go to get it.  I love the concept of bringing community together and I love the Web enabling that.  It's kind of another version, to me of Yahoo answers or Spire or LinkedIn’s answers.  You know, the way we are going now, which is to reach out through the ether and ask for help where you need it.  I like that this takes a physical manifestation of assistance and that is even better to me.

You know, we have seen a lot of success in the Yahoo answers mode.  We have seen a lot of success now at Wikia, which is the company that we started with Jimmy Wales and the Wikipedia team to build communities around areas of knowledge, specifically ones outside of the scope of an encyclopedia.

But yeah, the Web is just a obviously a perfect platform for bringing people together.

Susan Bratton:  Well today, Dishy Mix has been a terrific platform for bringing people together.  Those people are you and me and it's been fun.  I am so impressed with you.  It's been a delight to have some time to hear your thoughts, which are unique and special and well considered.  So thank you so much for spending some time with us.

David Cowan:  Thank you Susan.

Susan Bratton:  Yeah, it was my pleasure.  So you've been listening to David Cowan.  He is the managing partner at Bessemer Ventures.  And I am your host Susan Bratton.  I hope you'll tune in next week and thank you so much for giving us your time today.  Have a great day.


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